Editor’s Note: This article is submitted by a new Member Corner author, Davis Mattek. We welcome Davis to the Member Corner and look forward to seeing more of his work in the future!
In the fantasy football community, we have a running back problem. More than any other position, we focus on what a running back can do and what he can’t do. We beg on twitter for backup running backs to be freed from their shackles on the bench and given meaningful carries. Nothing incenses us as a community more than a plodder like Michael Turner getting force fed the ball. The business of running back talent evaluation is a serious one and the gravest phrase that can be uttered is that a certain player is “just a guy.” That’s why when I read a recent article that called DuJuan Harris ”just a guy,” I was personally offended. Back in November, I had identified Harris as a player that I wanted to target in the dynasty off-season and in 2013 redraft leagues.
Upon further examination, the claim that Harris is “just a guy'” doesn’t hold up. The Packers run game had been atrocious basically ever since James Starks had that magical run the year that the Packers won the Super Bowl. They have only two positively graded run blocking linemen according to Pro Football Focus’ statistics. That might be solvable, if the running back who had the most carries on the team didn’t acquire a cumulative -4.2 rushing rating for the season. When Cedric Benson was healthy, the team attempted to heavily involve him. He rewarded the team with a stout 3.5 yards per carry. James Starks, the team’s other stop gap solution may have been the worst of all, almost breaking PFF’s overall ranking by posting a -2.9 in one simple game against the Arizona Cardinals. Ryan Grant, in a return to the team he came up with, had a decent performance in a blowout, but was not seriously considered a solution. In general, these backs provided nothing positive in a pass heavy offense with a terrible offense line.
Harris, however, does not fall in the same category. The 5’7″ running back out of the University Of Troy had to fight his way to stay in the NFL after running a 4.45 40 yard dash at the combine and subsequently going undrafted. He was picked up and released by the Jacksonville Jaguars before finally being activated on Green Bay’s game day roster on December 9th against the Vikings. After that performance, both Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy lauded Harris’ explosion and toughness as such a small running back – this led to Harris taking over starting running back duties for Green Bay’s final 3 games.
Despite only being involved in six out of Green Bay’s 18 games, Harris lead Green Bay’s backfield in PFF’s elusiveness rating, touchdowns and yards per carry. The team clearly showed while Benson was healthy, they were willing to attempt to feature one running back heavily in the offense, having three out of his five games come with over 17 touches. DuJuan Harris is clearly not the plodder that Benson is. His ability to find the hole, no matter how small, and hit it decisively are a huge point in his favor. Alex Green, when given the opportunity, consistently ran into the exact wrong area and made bad decisions. Outside of a 41 yard run against the very terrible Indianapolis Colts defense, Green gained 243 yards on 134 attempts – that equates to 1.8 yards per carry. The fact that a Super Bowl contender gave a running back that bad that many touches is criminal, but beside the point as well. The overall analysis after looking at Harris and all of the other running backs on Green Bays roster is that he is the most talented back on said roster.
So what do we do with this information?
On the surface, many members of the fantasy community would tell us to do nothing. “Group think” would tell us that Green Bay throws the ball to much to produce a reliable RB2 and the offensive line makes those prospects even more doubtful. In the case of Harris, I contend “Group Think” is wrong. Once McCarthy and company realized what they had, the featured Harris heavily. Over the three games for the Pack, he received 16, 23, and 13 touches. In their 18 games, Green Bay running backs averaged 20.9 rushing attempts per game. The opportunity is there for a talented running back to take over the reigns and get off the the races. It is my belief that DuJuan Harris is that running back.
In a recent Dynasty League Football mock, I selected Harris with the first pick in the sixth round as my third running back. There are valid arguments that exist with this evaluation. Despite Harris obvious talent as a runner in between the tackles, as evidenced by his 4.9 yards per carry when running through the middle right gap of the center and right guard and identical yards per carry when running through the hole created by the left tackle and left guard, the offensive line in Green Bay isn’t great. While it is very possible that Green Bay addresses that issue in the upcoming draft, unless they get their hands on Luke Joeckel, it is doubtful that they transform into even a league average run blocking line. That concern alone will turn anyway many fantasy footballers. However, with Harris’ ability to simply cut in go, this isn’t as much of a hindrance. His Pro Football Focus Elusiveness rating would have ranked him seventh in the league if he had been able to reach 50% of his teams carries. That style of play is very helpful when playing with a porous offensive line.
Others still will claim Green Bay doesn’t feature its running backs and as a result, caps their value. Green Bay running backs not named John Kuhn (fullbacks are the bane of fantasy football) received 39 looks in the red zone. While not a great ratio, one can’t say that that they don’t at least attempt to involve the running backs. To further Harris’ case, in just four games, he received seven looks in the red zone. It certainly is not the prettiest picture, but fantasy football is all about value. It is possible that Harris is very cheap to acquire in your league or going to be drafted much later this potential would indicate he should in start ups.
Many are sticking steadfastly to their claims that DuJuan Harris is “just a guy,” even after impressive performances against Minnesota back-to-back, and then averaging 4.8 yards per carry against the San Francisco 49ers tremendous run defense. That sort of negative perception is going to drive his fantasy football value through the roof. The more people that don’t believe in Harris or fail to evaluate his talent correct, the more value he will provide for players smart enough to roster him.